Many commentators on the 2012 elections have commended the media for the role they played and contribution they made for transparent, free and fair polls. That claim is true. They media did a terrific job. Yes, they brought to the people, news of order at the some polling centres, and problems with equipment at others. They brought live scenes of ballots being counted and winners being announced, to living rooms and shacks in equal measure across the nation and beyond.
There were some unnecessary lapses in certain aspects of the media’s performance covering the elections and its aftermath. The lapses were certain unethical acts of a number of reporters and media, which also contributed to tension that we experienced.
My assessment is based on what I’ve observed with the three or four well established media organizations that operate from Accra. These four media organizations reach audiences in the millions in Accra and Tema, and over a hundred smaller media across Ghana, especially radios, depend on them for the news.
With such far and wide reach the Accra media are quite influential in the Ghanaian public space. So in the instances that the big media succeeded in serving the public interest, the reach of that success is be quite extensive; and when they failed, the negative outcomes that too are similarly extensive.
Similarly, we know the National Democratic Congress and its rival New Patriotic Party are the biggest contenders in the elections, each with a very large support base. Together, they accounted for more that 95% of votes in previous elections. There have been violent confrontations between their supporters in the past. This past behavior coupled with the NPP presidential candidate’s “all die be die” charge to his supporters had established the potential for some violence in the 2012 elections.
Therefore the media’s failure to exercise smart editorial control over some press statements and conferences organized by NDC and NPP on second day of the polls and after, was a major disappointment on the media’s performance. Joyfm, Joynews tv channel, peace fm and some others aired live, whole press conferences of rival political parties and their agitated supporters.
First, there was the broadcast on Saturday morning, of the NDC press conference, where the party called on registered voters who couldn’t cast their ballots to take advantage of the extension announced by the Electoral Commission to do so.
In the afternoon of same day was a second broadcast. It was a noisy mob in front of a property near Dzorwulu in Accra which houses a private business, where the NPP had alleged some rigging of election results was happening. There on the street, in the crowd, a reporter for a one of the Labone-based television stations at the scene hurriedly announced that someone was organizing a press conference, and in a matter of seconds pushed a microphone in the face of a party leader, who shouted out allegations and accusations of rigging against their rival.
Later the same day, there was another live press conference, where a campaign manager of the NPP said his party was winning the elections. That was followed by another live broadcast of NPP General Secretary announcing to supporters that their party has already won and that they should put on white cloth to church Sunday to celebrate the victory.
We all experienced the cold quiet tension that had welled up here in the city, like cumulonimbus arcus clouds that herald approaching storms. And we saw how the National Peace Council, sensing the developing tension and imminent clash between the NDC and NPP quickly held a press conference that midnight to condemned the NPP General Secretary’s announcement and the apparent press battle between the biggest parties.
We didn’t see the media doing the cross checks and investigations they ought to have done before publishing many of the allegations politicians on opposing sides made against each other. It goes contrary to the GJA code of ethics.
Yes, it’s not uncommon for reporters to work to the dictates of the political and economic interests of their employers. In this case they might have been doing just that. But how would a reckless behavior that has the potential to spark violence in a region already prone to civil conflicts and violence serve the best interests of the Ghanaian media?